St. Albert takes the lead in nutritious food options

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St. Albert is taking the lead when it comes to providing nutritious food options at recreation centres in comparison to other communities in Alberta.

The Alberta Policy Coalition for Chronic Disease Prevention released a report card on Sept. 28 that evaluated child obesity across Alberta. Though provincially there is plenty of room for improvement, St. Albert is ahead of other municipalities.

“St. Albert has really been probably the leading municipality in trying to improve healthy food availability in recreation facilities,” says Kim Raine, who is a scientific director of the Centre for Health and Nutrition in the School of Public Health at the University of Alberta and one of the authors of the report card.

The 2017 Alberta Nutrition Report Card evaluated communities across Alberta and broke the results into five categories: physical, communication, social, political and economic environments.

Raine says Alberta received a failing grade for protecting the health and nutrition of Alberta’s youth.

She says the report card took information provided by Statistics Canada on how overweight and obesity rates have changed in children between 2004 and 2015.

It showed that the 12- to 17-year-old category isn’t “doing quite as well and perhaps are not as protected,” she says.

Part of this is due to not enough healthy food options being available at school. Additionally, young people in that age category are typically able to leave school during breaks.

“In Calgary and Edmonton about 80 per cent of schools have one fast food or convenience store within 500 metres of the school,” she says. “About 30 per cent have more than five.”

Alberta received an overall grade of ‘D’ when it came to physical environments. The category evaluated accessibility to healthy foods within school settings, childcare settings, recreation facilities and restaurants, accessibility to unhealthy foods and healthy ingredients within foods.

St. Albert stood apart from the rest of the province, being recognized as a leader in providing healthy foods at recreation centres.

In 2012 Mark Edwards, who was the business and marketing manager for the city at the time, implemented changes that would see healthier food options made available by food vendors in recreation facilities. Raine says healthy options are important.

“Other research has shown that people will choose the healthy choice if it’s made available to them,” Raine says. “If we’re not giving our kids the chance to make a healthy choice, they’re not going to make a healthy choice.”

While that was the most notable deviation from the rest of Alberta communities, St. Albert followed suit on most of the other results on the report card.

The province received a ‘D’ in the communication environment, which evaluated menu labelling on food products, shelf labelling, product labelling, product labelling regulations and public health campaigns directed at youth eating healthy foods.

Alberta was also given a “D” grade for economic environment, however within the category the province scored an “A” for lower prices for healthy foods. Alberta received an “F” for higher prices for unhealthy food, reducing households with children who rely on charity for food and nutritious food baskets that are affordable.

Alberta received a “C” grade for social environments, based on having accessible spaces for breastfeeding in public and in hospitals.

An overall grade of “B” was given to Alberta in the political environment category, which is based on health policies and resources available.

In response to the findings, the coalition has put forward nine recommendations to improve health and nutrition of Alberta’s youth.

The recommendations include: broaden the reach of the Alberta School Nutrition Program to include grades 7 to 12, mandate the adherence to the Alberta Nutritional Guidelines for Children and Youth in all child and youth-oriented settings and make food skills education a requirement at the junior high level.

Raine is also calling for a tax on sugar, which would prevent youth from purchasing food products that contain sugar.

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About Author

Dayla Lahring

Dayla Lahring joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2017. She writes about business, health, general news and features. She also contributes photographs.